Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I Really, Really Like Lemony Snicket

In 1999, Lemony Snicket crept onto the scene with what was to be a 13-book series "A Series of Unfortunate Events" about the Baudelaire orphans, their wicked "uncle" and various other characters-- friends, foes and depressingly tongue-in-cheek adventures. (The movie did not capture the spirit of the books very well... surprise, surprise.)

I liked these books a lot, not because the stories were uplifting-- they're not, and not because the adventures are unique, though they are, and not even because the characters are charming, though many of them are. I liked them mostly because of the way Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler) plays with the English language.

He frequently throws out large words and then defines them for the reader, often in an amusing, twisted way. For example:
"Composer is a word which here means "a person who sits in a room, muttering and humming and figuring out what notes the orchestra is going to play." This is called composing. But last night, the Composer was not muttering. He was not humming. He was not moving, or even breathing. This is called decomposing."

He also uses similes in fantastic, creative, and often hilarious ways: 
"Shyness is a very curious thing, because, like quicksand, it can strike people are any time, and also, like quicksand, it usually makes its victims look down."
 "Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like."

I also have a fondness for the macabre. Especially the amusingly macabre. (I love a good, gritty, scary, gory murder mystery.) Although these books are written toward children, they are equally (and perhaps even more) enjoyable for adults, due to the dark nature of the events in the children's lives. I was, however, unhappy with how the series ended. It's been 8 or more years since I read them, so I don't remember the details of why, but I do remember being annoyed and frustrated with the finale.

Then I came across "Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid", also by Snicket. This is one of my favorite books I've ever had the pleasure of digesting. It's simply a book full of Snicket's unique style of morose wisdom. He turns ideas on their heads and twists what you expect into something new and darkly amusing. A couple of gems from that book:

“Most schools have a loud system of loud bells, which startle the students and teachers at regular intervals and remind them that time is passing even more slowly than it seems.”

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”

Dark humor is risky and doesn't always work. I love it when it's done well, and that's Snicket's specialty.

Only one title in the new juvenile fiction series, "All the Wrong Questions", has been released to date, and I liked it, though not as much as "Horseradish". But there is just something remarkable about the way Snicket writes. I am so excited about his new picture book, titled simply "The Dark", and illustrated by Jon Klassen, whom I've only recently discovered. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy. Here is the preview:

I can't actually put my finger on why I love Lemony Snicket, and why I feel compelled to purchase anything and everything written by him, no matter the quality. I just can't get enough of his use of language, his macabre sense of humor and his expectation that his readers are smart enough to get it all. Even his websites are darkly hilarious. He has different sites for each series, but they are both great. A Series of Unfortunate Events and All the Wrong Questions. Enjoy.

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